Sunday, August 3, 2008
My mother has a huge collection of masks from all over the world - eclectic and exotic. Now, the mask above I picked up in Ponce, Puerto Rico years ago when I was working on a project there. The mask parade every year in Ponce is Puerto Rico's answer to Mardi Gras.
The vejigantes are the undisputed stars of this show, but what, exactly, are they? In a word, they're demons. More to the point, the vejigante is a figure straight out of a centuries-old folklore that blends African, Spanish, and Caribbean cultures. The name originates from vejiga, which means "bladder" in Spanish. The traditional vejigante costume requires three basic components: mask, cape, and suit. The mask is the most iconic and colorful of these essentials, and even it has rules and regulations: The vejigante mask has a conflagration of teeth and horns. Just like mine! Like Mardi Gras, the carnival has its roots in Catholicism. The vejigantes, armed with their vejigas (inflated cow bladders), go around whacking children and other innocents, ostensibly to beat away any evil spirits that are lingering around them. However, given that they are known to target attractive women, these spiritual motives might be suspect. The festival ends with the Entierro de la Sardina, or "Burial of the Sardine." This mock funeral, complete with dummy-laden coffin, is in honor of the coming season of lent. Coffin and dummy are set on fire, to symbolize the burning away of the sins of the flesh. If you are planning a trip to Mardi Gras or Rio de Janerio for Carnival you may want to consider Ponce instead!